Finance

House panel advances Biden’s $1.9T COVID-19 aid bill

The House Budget Committee on Monday advanced President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on a 19-16 party-line vote.

The bill must be marked up by the House Rules Committee before consideration on the House floor, likely on Friday or Saturday. The legislation will then have to be taken up in the Senate, where it is expected to face considerable procedural and political challenges.

“We are in a race against time. Aggressive, bold action is needed before our nation is more deeply and permanently scarred by the human and economic costs of inaction,” Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said at the hearing.

The bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks, extensions to emergency unemployment benefits, funding for vaccinations and testing, $129 billion for schools, increases to child tax credits and earned income tax credits, and a plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) noted that the legislation is widely popular, with some 70 percent public support, including half of Republicans.

Republicans on the panel, however, slammed Democrats for advancing the bill through budget reconciliation, a process that will allow them to pass it without GOP support in the Senate, saying the legislation amounted to a “liberal wish list” and arguing that many of its provisions have nothing to do with the pandemic.

“This is the wrong plan at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons,” said ranking member Jason Smith (R-Mo.), pointing to $350 billion in state and local aid that he said would encourage lockdowns.

Republicans also noted that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that some $700 billion would not be spent until 2022 or later.

Committee staff said the estimates were based on typical spending patterns and that nothing in the bill prevented key funds from being spent sooner.

Though the committee approved the measure relatively quickly, it remained in session to debate nonbinding motions that could be raised later.

Budget law prohibits the panel from substantially altering the reconciliation bill, which faced scrutiny in nine authorizing committee markups last week. Amendments will be possible in the Rules Committee as well.

Democrats may struggle to pass certain portions of the bill in the Senate, where they hold a 50-50 majority with Vice President Harris’s tiebreaking vote.

Policies such as the $15 minimum wage may not pass muster under strict budget rules and have detractors among the Democratic caucus. Both Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) oppose the minimum wage measure’s inclusion in the COVID-19 relief bill.

Biden has vowed to get the bill signed into law before a slew of emergency unemployment benefits expire on March 14.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 aid House Budget Committee Jason Smith Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Yarmuth Pandemic

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